Etihad buys stake in Swiss airline, plans European network

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Etihad Airways, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, has agreed to take a one-third equity stake in Switzerland-based regional carrier Darwin Airline, and plans to partner with the airline to operate co-branded flights to a number of secondary European cities under the new Etihad Regional brand.

In conjunction, Etihad plans to launch Abu Dhabi-Zurich service on June 1. Zurich will become one of Darwin Airline’s main operating hubs, in addition to its primary Geneva hub.

Pending regulatory approval of the stake, Etihad will use the Darwin Airline network "to connect passengers from secondary European markets onto the main networks of Etihad Airways and its equity alliance partners."

Equity partners set to codeshare with Darwin include Airberlin and Air Serbia, whose hubs also will be linked into "the new Etihad Regional network." Etihad's 49% stake in Air Serbia is expected to close early next year.

Etihad president and CEO James Hogan called the move "a step-change for Etihad Airways. With our new partner Darwin Airline, we are creating a unique approach to network development for global airlines."

Headquartered in Lugano, Switzerland, Darwin serves 21 destinations with a fleet of 10 50-seat Saab turboprops. Etihad indicated Darwin "will continue to focus on secondary markets," and, with Etihad support, a major expansion is planned.

Etihad expects Darwin to add "21 new routes and 18 new destinations" by mid-2014. "Its network will then include six European gateways served by Etihad Airways," including Geneva, Amsterdam, Paris, Dusseldorf and Belgrade, home of Air Serbia.

Etihad noted a new Etihad Regional logo "will be displayed prominently on each side of the fuselage of the Darwin Airline aircraft, while the rear of the plane will carry the words 'Operated by Darwin Airline.'"

Once the transaction is complete, Darwin is expected to adopt the Etihad Guest frequent flyer program.

Darwin in April 2014 is expected to launch nine routes: Dusseldorf-Berlin; Cambridge, England-London City; Berlin-Poznan, Poland; Berlin-Wroclaw, Poland; Geneva-Toulouse, France; Zurich-Leipzig, Germany; Rome-Tirana, Albania; and Rome-Zagreb, Croatia.

The carrier in May plans to launch Zurich-Geneva; Zurich-Florence; Zurich-Turin, Italy; and Geneva-Belgrade, Serbia service.

June is expected to bring new flights from Zurich to Linz, Austria; Graz, Austria; Verona, Italy; and Lyon, France, as well as between Geneva and Bordeaux, France; Marseille, France; Nantes, France; and Verona.

Source: Business Travel News

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